Debate over F1’s future direction has heightened in recent weeks after Mercedes, F1’s current top dogs announced they would enter Formula-E, an all-electric competition increasing in popularity. Porsche, linked with an F1 move in previous years, will do likewise and join a manufacturer roster, which already includes Renault, Jaguar and Citroen.
While in and of itself, these aren’t developments that would raise eyebrows, it does lend extra weight to some recent comments by Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner. In an interview with Sky Sports, Horner said the following:
“We have seen all the manufacturers now signing up to Formula E; that is where the technology belongs and where the electric cars belong. Formula 1 is really at a crossroads because the power unit that is picked for 2021 onwards is probably going to have between and eight- and ten-year life.
“What are people going to be driving on the roads in 2030? Will they be autonomous? Will they be electric? If you listen to our government, they’re saying they certainly will be.
“So Formula 1 is at a crossroads where it has to decide what its future is. Is it outright racing? Is it combustion engines? Is it man and machine wanting to know who the best driver [is], with the technology perhaps playing a slightly lesser role?”
Is Formula E really a threat to Formula 1?
Horner’s comments should be taken with a slight pinch of salt. Red Bull is not the team they once were, and with a strong aerodynamic package, they will be pushing for the regulations to rely less and less on engine performance. However, there does seem to be an air of brutal honesty from Horner. A genuine opinion from someone in power in F1 is something that is becoming harder to find within an ever-corporate sport.
But is Formula E the only factor that could push F1 from its place of prominence at the pinnacle of motorsport? Formula E is by no means a perfect competition, with many features such as the “fan boost” (giving drivers a power boost of 30kw or roughly 40bhp) coming under criticism from many F1 purists. Could it be that F1 is as much at risk from its own decisions as it is from the growth in other formats and competitions?
Many so-called ‘purists’, fans of the “golden age of racing” or even former races, point to the increase in regulations as being a major issue. What was once a competition to find out what humans can achieve in the fastest machinery available to them has become bogged down in regulations that limit both the driver and the engines.
More than a sport
However, F1 is not just about the competition. Formula 1 in recent years has been seen as a bastion for car manufacturers, perfecting technology that is now ubiquitous in the average road car. That trickle down effect is just one aspect where the F1 is as much a business opportunity as a sport. It is no secret that Mercedes’ success on-track has equated to more cars sold worldwide, and they have often used the brand juggernaut that is Lewis Hamilton to promote their products.
Others may argue that the entertainment factor in F1 supersedes any and all arguments regarding the direction of the sport. To many, the sport is controlled by the way the finances are delegated to the winners and losers of the previous year.
So does F1 require an independent engine manufacturer making a V10 for a nominal cost and the differentiator becomes aero packages, innovation and the skill of the man/woman behind the wheel? The 2017 rules have done nothing to improve the spectacle of F1, it just so happens that Ferrari have improved enough to give us a two-horse race, something we haven’t seen for a good few years.
You could argue that out of the past 20 years, only four years have more than two teams actually stood a chance of winning the title (2001, 2003, 2010, 2012). Is that something we should be accepting as fans? To many, the cars are too easy to drive and teenagers with limited single-seater experience such as Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll shouldn’t be able to hop into these cars. The average age of an F1 driver has been slowly decreasing, but where does that stop? In 10 years are we likely to see 14-year-olds driving at the apex of motorsport?
The lack of competition, and the appearance of an “easier” car to drive, make for a less interesting product in the eyes of many, and Formula E are in position to attract the disaffected fans.
The role of Liberty Media should not be underestimated in the landscape of the sport. Chase Carey (CEO of the Formula One Group) has been outspoken in his aims to bring more fans into the sport. He aims to achieve this through more competitive racing and a more entertaining package for the Grand Prix weekend, encouraging more of a festival feeling to the weekend and have “more bang for your buck” sort of approach towards entertaining the fans. This may not relate to on track competiveness, but bringing F1 right back up to trend is exactly what Liberty is about.
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